Plan Your Meals for the Week – Just Do It!
I get asked over and over how I plan meals for the week. My simple and not so simple answer is-just do it. You have to start somewhere, as Julia Child did and our grandmothers did. It’s very similar to when I was writing Scratch That™ Seasonal Menus and Perfect Pairings. You have to get started and no one can do that but you. Last night during the Academy Awards, I wrote out the meals by hand for the week, made a grocery list, and checked the cupboards and refrigerator during the commercials.
This week I am aiming for five days of dinners at home because my husband and I are out two nights together this week. He has a work event the other night. I have a day trip to the East Coast. I’ll have leftovers one night, and we are entertaining six at the end of the week. My husband isn’t traveling this week so he needs lunch/leftovers five days. I need something portable and healthy for breakfast on the plane to the East Coast. Also, we need other healthy snacks such as homemade granola and small oranges to prevent those salsa/chip snacks turned into meals! If you have children, you’ll want to factor in their activities and lunches, etc. Therefore, I have a framework for the week- five dinners. If five days is overwhelming, just do three until you get the hang of it. The most important aspect is to develop a habit. I do this every Sunday night. Most of the time, I can go to the grocery store once a week.
What to make for the week? When I think of meals, I think of what’s in season. It’s March so asparagus is going to be good, and fruit is getting better. Also, I think of what comfort food we crave. Also, I look at nutrition, from scratch food, vegetarian two nights a week, whole grains, ease, budget, texture, color, new vegetables, trying new ethnic recipes ,what goes together, what looks good on a plate, what I have in the pantry, etc. Perhaps you are dieting. You'll probably want to factor that in to no dessert ideas this week. Once you get the hang of it, you’ll be able to do this in your head. The next step is to write the meals down on some used paper, and build a grocery list/pantry look from the list. Go over it a couple of times so you don’t forget anything. I keep a running list on a chalkboard of staples: cleaning supplies, my husband’s gum and lip balm, etc. You know which staples you buy every week: eggs, milk, juice, whole wheat bread, celery, carrots, onions, energy bars, cheese that melts easily, whole wheat pizza dough, and vegetables and fruits. Kendall, a busy mom and friend of mine, keeps her meal lists in a notebook. She rotates them quarterly. Then a lot of her planning is done, and she has a handy copy of it ready to go for the next planning session. If you are entertaining, type the menus and save them on your hard drive. (Maybe you have the beginning of your first cookbook.)
Another time-saving tip is having a stable of basics in the refrigerator and pantry. My Aunt Della could whip together a meal for impromptu guests. Now I know how she did it. She had basics in her cabinets like: dried pasta, canned tomatoes and beans, canned tuna, root vegetables, frozen vegetables, eggs, milk, salt, pepper, baking supplies, flat leaf parsley, Parmesan cheese, lemons, garlic, butter, olive oil, carrots, bacon, tomato paste,anchovies,red wine vinegar,, etc. With these supplies she could whip up a meal in no time. Often, she had prepared frozen entrees and soups in her extra freezer. Many of us don’t have extra freezer room so we don’t have that option. If you do, it’s nice to have a homemade soup ready to be thawed in the freezer after a family vacation.
If you keep the basics in your refrigerator, you’d be surprised what you can come up with. While looking in my refrigerator on Friday, I saw low fat cream cheese, spicy Calabrian peppers from Italy, sweet piquant peppers from South Africa, and half a juicy lemon in a baggie. All of this was whirred up in a mini processor, and I had a great dip for toasted bread to start our meal. (Perhaps a great sauce for grilled asparagus too). The next day I took leftover grilled vegetables, and added them to scrambled eggs for brunch after church. Try making something out of what’s in the refrigerator. Great recipes evolve from a spur of the moment look in the fridge.
When you get home from the grocery store, please take the extra 30 minutes, and wash and spin the vegetables, greens, and herbs, and place them around a paper towel in a resalable bag. Then they are ready to go for the week. When I did this on Friday, I saw the basis for a wonderful vegetable stock: carrot tops, some parsley, ends of scallions, a carrot, some fresh herbs, a bay leaf, salt, pepper, and some water. An hour later, I had made a flavorful vegetable stock for my asparagus soup and a flavor enhancer for polenta and steamed veggies. Freeze leftover stock in small plastic containers for future use. Also, I bought prawns and salmon for two. I saved the shells from the prawns and froze them. They will be used to make a fish stock for the following week. Part of the salmon was very thin and would not cook evenly like the other two pieces. That also went into the bag of shells for a flavorful fish stock. All I have to do is purchase some fish bones at the fish store add them to the rest of the fish stock ingredients.
Get the hang of it? Once you do, there will be no what’s for dinner questions, or the mad dash through the drive through. You’ll be more relaxed about meal preparation, you’ll eat better and you’ll save money. Start planning three days of the week, and make your goal to plan five meals a week. You might just find out what happened to everyone during the day, over a homemade meal around the dining room table.
Talk to you next week,
author of Scratch That, conniefairbanks.com.